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Astros' rallies in 9th and 10th block sweep by Pirates

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- No way the Houston Astros could win this one.
Not down four runs in the ninth. Not the way Oliver Perez was
dominating them. Not after losing, barely 12 hours before, the kind
of game that can ruin a season.

Somehow, the Astros did win, and they're wondering if it can be
the start to something good in a season that was threatening to
turn bad.

Preston Wilson singled in the go-ahead run in the 10th inning
and the Astros, after losing in 18 innings the night before in
their longest game in 17 years, rallied for a 5-4 victory over
Pittsburgh on Sunday to halt a five-game losing streak.

Good teams seem to pull out games like this once or twice in a
season, and manager Phil Garner said the out-of-nowhere win came at
a perfect time after an 8-7 loss Saturday night that was admittedly
tough on the Astros mentally and physically.

"That was really good," Garner said. "It looked awful, so
pulling that one out was pretty nice."

The defending NL champion Astros won't have long to find out if
they can build on their remarkable comeback. They have lost 16 of
23 going into a three-game series in St. Louis, the team they beat
in the NL championship series last season.

"There always seems to be that one game you look back at,"
Morgan Ensberg said. "This could be it."

Even in an already bad season for the Pirates -- they are 16-34 --
this was a terrible loss. Jason Bay homered in a sixth consecutive
game, Jose Bautista hit a three-run shot and Perez allowed only
three singles over eight shutout innings, yet the Pirates were
denied their first three-game series sweep in almost two years.

"It's real tough when you're up 4-0 and then, boom, it's 4-4,"
Bay said. "That's definitely going to suck the life out of a
team."

Perez, making his third consecutive strong start, started the
ninth despite throwing 120 pitches to that point and quickly gave
up singles to Ensberg and Mike Lamb. Mike Gonzalez later walked
Jason Lane and Willy Taveras to force in runs and also allowed Eric
Bruntlett's RBI single, and Salomon Torres gave up Brad Ausmus'
tying sacrifice fly.

"Ollie threw such a great game, you've got to go out there and
do what you can and make sure you get those outs," Gonzalez said.

Torres (2-2), pitching for the eighth time in nine games,
started the 10th by doing what Perez did the inning before by
giving up singles to Ensberg and Lamb. Wilson's single made it 5-4,
but Torres managed to avoid any more scoring when Lamb was tagged
out at the plate on a failed suicide squeeze.

"A couple of balls fell in, and we haven't been having that
happen," Garner said. "We flipped a few balls in there and found
some holes."

Chad Qualls (3-1) pitched a scoreless ninth for the victory.
Brad Lidge, erratic of late in save situations, finished up for his
13th save in 16 opportunities, stranding a runner on second to end
the game.

The Astros avoided falling below .500 for the first time since
they were 45-46 last season. They had lost 11 of 13 on the road,
including the 18-inning loss that was the longest game, by time,
ever played in Pittsburgh -- 5 hours, 49 minutes. It also was the
Astros' longest regular season game, by innings, since a 22-inning
win over Los Angeles in 1989.

"Both teams were pretty tired, so to get out to that lead, you
feel comfortable about it," Bay said. "To have it drift away and
lose that game, that one hurt."

Bay didn't look tired after an extended Saturday night in which
he hit a three-run homer, made an excellent catch to prevent
another homer and scored the winning run in the 18th.

Bay hit an 0-1 pitch from Fernando Nieve into the center-field
bullpen area in the fourth inning, his 10th homer in as many games.
The last major leaguers to hit 10 homers in 10 games were Sammy
Sosa (August 2002) and Shawn Green (May 2002).

Bay and Ensberg (April 15-21) are the only NL players to homer
in six consecutive games this season. Texas' Kevin Mench homered in
seven consecutive games from April 21-28, one short of the major
league record set by the Pirates' Dale Long in 1956 and matched by
Don Mattingly (1987) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1993).

That 1-0 lead held up until Jeromy Burnitz and Craig Wilson
singled ahead of Bautista's third career homer, on a 2-0 pitch by
Nieve in the seventh.

Game notes
Houston is 8-16 on the road and 2-5 on a road trip that
wraps up in St. Louis. ... The Pirates are 0-8 in home day games.
... Pirates 1B Sean Casey, out for 2½ months with two fractures in
his lower back, could be activated as early as Monday. ... The
Pirates haven't swept a three-game series since doing so against
the Reds on July 23-25, 2004.